Deep within the realm of the Underworld, the Mayan god, Ah Puch groaned. The ground rumbled beneath him. God L wailed in response and the whole earth trembled. From the ancient cities of Chican Itza to Tikal, the walls within the great Mayan temples shook. For miles around the ancient ruins, children clung to their mothers, fearful of the wrath of the Mayan gods. Grown men dropped to their knees in submission, begging the gods of the Underworld for an answer to what had awakened their fury.
“You promised my treasure was safe with the map,” Kukulkan hissed with fury while Ah Puch and God L cowered at his feet. “First, the Spaniard runs loose again. Now the guardian no longer holds the map safe. Must I call the god of war to settle this?” God L shook his head in shame. Ah Puch groaned and the earth moved again in response.
Over a thousand miles away, in Benicia, California, the ground stood still for one boy. Twelve-year-old Michael Cowan knew nothing of Mayan gods nor the reason for their anger. And, though the earth beneath his feet was solid today, tomorrow his own world would be shaken like the foundations of the Mayan temples.
* * *
“Heads up!” their father called.
The two brothers ran after the Frisbee, their brown-haired heads bobbing against the blue sky. Racing toward the cool water, the tide lapped against their ankles and the sand curled around their toes. Michael Cowan gave his little brother, Andrew, a head start, but caught him after a few quick strides. The Frisbee landed in the water, the tide catching and carrying it just past the beach. Diving into the ocean, Michael caught the Frisbee with his skinny arm and waded toward shore.
As he shook the water from his hair, he smiled, looking for his dad against the setting sun. Without warning, Michael was pummeled by a giant wave.
His dad yanked him from the water and said, “Are you okay?”
Michael followed his father on wobbly legs. “Come on Michael, run,” his father pleaded and cast a nervous glance behind him.
Turning his head over his shoulder, Michael tried to see behind his dad. “Don’t look!” Dad said, but
not before, Michael caught the shadow of a man peeking around a rock.
“Faster! You have to move faster.”
At the car, Dad threw open the back door and nudged Andrew inside. Michael had barely sat down in the front seat when his dad backed the car and squealed out of the parking lot.
“Buckle up!” Dad said.
Michael asked, “Who was that man?”
Looking in the rearview mirror, the color returned to his Dad’s face. He sighed and said, “I’m not sure, but I hope to find out tonight.”
Andrew interrupted and said, “Why did we have to leave so soon? When do we get to go to the beach again? Did you know I found a whole bunch of sand crabs? Do you think Mom will let me have a crab? I bet she won’t. She wouldn’t let me have a snake, would she Dad?”
Their dad smiled and shook his head. Michael wondered how his brother could find so many things to chatter about when Dad looked so worried. Andrew stopped talking and hummed, “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” over and over again.
Michael thought about their family outing the week before at the park. They were flying kites on the last day of May. Just as they got their kite in the air, their dad reeled it in and rushed them to the car just like he did today.
“Dad, what’s going on?” Michael asked. Is somebody following us?”
His dad rubbed the dark stubble on his chin, hesitant.
“Come on, Dad!” Michael coaxed.
His dad lowered his voice and said, “Michael, buddy, if anything happens to me, I have a map you have to keep safe, no matter what.”
“A map?” Michael said.
Andrew stopped humming like he wanted to hear.
“How you doing, Andrew?” Dad said with a light voice.
“Are we almost home yet? I’m hungry.”
“Almost there and then we can eat,” Dad said.
“Dad…” Michael said.
“Not now, Michael!” his dad whispered. “But tomorrow, after church, I need to talk to you about the map.”
After dinner, Michael followed his dad to his office. “Dad, tell me who followed us today and about the map.”
“It’s a long story and I have some things I needs to take care of tonight,” Dad said, turning his back to Michael. His father scooted over some boxes on the bookshelf. He reached to the back of the shelf and pulled out an aged canister, tucking it under his arm. Then he slid some books off his desk and held them out to his son and said, “Here, take these and follow me.”
Michael followed his dad to the garage where his dad opened the trunk to his car and put the books and canister inside.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m not going anywhere yet and I can’t tell you until tomorrow. I’ll know more then.”
“But Dad,” Michael protested.
Before he could say more, his father cast Michael a weary look, walked past him, and locked himself in his office.
Dejected, Michael went into the family room where he found his mom reading to Andrew. He tried to listen, but kept looking at the clock until he gave up and said, “Goodnight, I’m going to bed.”
“I love you. Have a good night.” His mom called after him and he rushed to bed where he read until he fell into a fitful night’s sleep.
He was abruptly awakened by his dad’s panicked voice, “I don’t have the map!” Don’t kill me. Please, I beg you!” From the shadows emerged a dark figure who moved like the wind across room, somehow not making a sound over the usually creaky floor. His wet teeth glimmered in the starlight and his wild, black hair, lay in greasy strands across his face. When he reached Michael’s dad, he pressed the heel of his buckled shoe into his chest and shoved the tip of a sword into his neck.
Michael sat up in terror, sweat dripping from his forehead. He expected to see his father on the ground, begging for mercy beneath the foot of some madman. Instead, he saw nothing but the shadows cast by the moon, across his bedroom wall. He listened for his father’s voice again, but heard only knocking coming from downstairs. The doorbell rang then the knocking grew faster and louder. Michael’s mom walked past his room and he hurried after her.
When his mom reached the bottom of the stairs, she peeked through the window and opened the door a bit. A policeman with a bushy mustache introduced himself as Officer Romero and introduced his partner. Michael’s’ mom opened the door wider, peering into the darkness at his badge. Officer Romero asked her if she recognized the wallet he held in his hand. A shadow of fear crossed her eyes and they filled with tears as she nodded her head.
“No, please no,” Mom said in a muffled cry and covered her mouth with a trembling hand.
Officer Romero looked at his partner who stared at his feet and shifted back and forth. “I’m afraid I have some terrible news. May we come in?” he asked.